Archives for category: Honor Roll

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes here about Superintendent Joe Roy, a champion for students and public schools. I add him now to the honor roll of the blog.

Superintendent Joe Roy is a fearless fighter for better opportunities for the students that attend his small city school district of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  His district is diverse, and about 60% receive free or reduced price lunch.
 
In 2016, he was the Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year. This is what he said when honored, “I’m one person out of 2,000 people in the district who do great work. So many people contribute, and it’s nice to have the recognition, but it shouldn’t be one person.”  That is who Joe Roy is.
 
Two years ago, I spoke with Joe Roy who told me how his district is being drained of funding by charter schools and cyber charters. I was shocked by how much they cost. You can read about our conversation and what I learned here.
 
Now Joe is fighting side by side with other superintendents of Pennsylvania city districts whose finances are becoming unsustainable due to charter school drain. Joe therefore has become a target of the charter lobby. At a public meeting he said the following.
 

“During the question-and-answer portion of the news conference, a reporter asked Roy why parents choose charter schools. The superintendent listed a variety of reasons like academic programs, transportation — for some parents the limited busing to the district’s neighborhood schools is a turn off — and uniforms. The longer school day at some charters paired with the bus ride can mean real child-care savings for families, Roy said.

And some parents send their children to charter schools “to avoid having their kids be with kids coming from poverty or kids with skin that doesn’t look like theirs,” Roy said.”

What Joe Roy said, which anyone who has ever worked in schools knows, is that some parents engage in  “white flight.”  They do so through curriculum tracking or leaving a district for a private or charter school. 
 
The charter lobby of Pennsylvania was outraged! He is calling white parents who choose a charter school “racists”, they claimed. They called for a public apology. They called for his resignation. They did what many charter proponents have been doing lately since pushback against charters has begun–they twisted a statement and then bullied their target.
 
But Joe Roy works for a good board elected by the people of Bethlehem. This was their response:
 
“This board, all nine publicly elected members, support Dr. Roy and echo his comments,” board President Michael Faccinetto said. “We will not back down in this fight for charter reform, and we will not ask Dr. Roy to back down or be silenced because a few unelected lobbyists disagree with the facts.”
 
You can read the full story here
 
Joe Roy is a hero. He does not hate charter schools. But he hates what the 30 million dollars his district must handover to charter schools is doing to his students and taxpayers. He is seeing neighboring districts fall into real financial crisis. He believes in public education and so does his Board of Education.
 
Hooray for the leadership of Bethlehem for speaking the truth to the powerful charter lobby!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a day when we pause and give thanks to whatever deity we worship (or not) for the blessings we enjoy: our freedom, our family, our friends, and our good fortune to live in a democracy where we are all responsible for making it better for our brothers and sisters.

I want to share with you a profound speech delivered by our good friend Rev. Dr. Charles Foster Johnson about religious liberty and the public schools and the future of our democracy.

Charlie Johnson is the founder and leader of Pastors for Texas Children. PTC has led the fight against vouchers in Texas and has helped like-minded religious leaders in other states form their own organizations to support religious liberty and public schools. I never expected, at this late chapter in my life, to discover that I have a dear friend who is a Baptist minister in my home state of Texas. I admire his courage, his intellect, and his passion for the common good. Needless to say, he is on the honor roll of this blog, and I name him as a hero of the Resistance in my forthcoming book Slaying Goliath. I can’t think of a better way for you to spend a few free minutes on this day than to read this wonderful speech.

This is the only post you will receive today. Enjoy the day. Read this speech.

 

J.M. Dawson Lecture on Religious Liberty

“Religious Liberty, the Public School, and the Soul of America”

Baylor University

October 7, 2019

 

     I am deeply honored to deliver the J.M. Dawson Lecture on the Separation of Church and State, and I am humbled to offer a few remarks in the name and legacy of this remarkable Baptist leader and great American on the bedrock principle of religious liberty and its practical corollary, the separation of the church and the state in public affairs.

 

     When I spoke recently with my oldest granddaughter Corley, who is age 10, she asked me what I was doing. I told her I was preparing a sermon for my friends at Baylor University on “Religious Liberty, the Public School, and the Soul of America.” She said, “Papa Charlie, you always use the biggest words… what does all that mean?”

 

     I learned a long time ago that if the preacher can’t explain a concept to a child, then he or she doesn’t quite get it either. So, I drew a breath and said something like this, “Sweetie, God made us free people. No one can make you love God. No one can prevent you from loving God. It is our choice. All faith in God is voluntary. It is your decision. No one can make that decision for you. Not your parents, not your friends, not the president or the police or the law or the government. Only you.”

 

     Then this granddaughter of two Baptist preachers on her mama and her daddy’s side (she doesn’t have a chance) said, “I know, Papa Charlie! We talked about that at church. And, we talked about that at school too.”

 

Religious Liberty

 

     Throughout our lives, we have had a sustained theological critique of the Enlightenment and its emphasis on the individual. This project of correction, as I understand it, notes that the philosophical framework through which the modern sensibility has been shaped places undue importance on the autonomy of the individual and gives inadequate attention to the influence of community. There has been something of a robust debate about this dialectic between the individual and the community, about the historically baptist and catholic understandings of authority and epistemology, and the cultural, moral, and theological implications of these respective worldviews. This university has been a key participant in this debate. Some of you here today have contributed significantly to it.

 

     It certainly makes sense to me. As a pastor for over 40 years, I have abundantly observed folks who believe all reality begins and ends with themselves, and who exercise little submission to anyone or anything but themselves. We have this psychological and spiritual dysfunction on vivid display in our highest leaders today. We have certainly paid a high price for this narcissism. We like the immortal figure of Greek mythology, fixate on ourselves, and die in the process.

 

     But, we do not have to fall for the myth of autonomous individualism to affirm the irreducible and inviolate freedom of the human conscience. In this day of mass society, where corporate conglomerates monitor our every thought, news networks disseminate state propaganda, media machines determine our daily consumption, and pastors become mouthpieces for Caesar, that we need a recovery of individual freedom. Isn’t it the day and time for us to reaffirm the power and freedom of the individual, and to call for a new assertion of individual rights and responsibilities, and to inculcate all over again in our students and congregants an individual and personal decision-making power?

 

     Forgive the patriarchal references, but I remember Will Campbell saying at Mississippi College in 1978 something to this effect: “I am less free than my daddy, my daddy was less free than my granddaddy, and my granddaddy was less free than my great-granddaddy.” I had no clue then what on earth he meant by such a cryptic remark. But I do now. And so do you.

 

     We today are like the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky’s famous story who has Christ arrested for cursing humanity with freedom. The Inquisitor concluded that Christ made a strategic error in not turning stones to bread, not casting himself off the pinnacle of the Temple, not ruling over the kingdoms of this world, for these things would have sealed his leadership and people would have followed him. But instead, Christ remained free, and gave us the burden of freedom. The Grand Inquisitor says, “anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.” No kidding. We see it every day.

 

     God has created human freedom as a reflection of God’s own freedom, God’s own non-contingency, as the theologians would put it. The individual liberty accorded every person is a work of God in Creation, and an integral feature of human worth and dignity.

 

      A core component of this freedom is at work in the realm of religion. Religious liberty and is the right and choice of the human—the “inalienable” right, as Jefferson immortally put it—to worship God according to the compulsion of his or her own individual conscience, or not to worship God at all.

 

     To say the term “religious freedom” is to speak a paradox of immense power and implication. The very impulse of religion is submission to a power outside oneself, to cast oneself in categorical terms upon God in a posture of what Schleiermacher called “absolute dependence.” The project of any religious concern is the relinquishment of one’s own autonomy to the hegemony of God.  

  

     In a sinful world, full of idols that vie for our submission, the individual made in the image of God is the only entity competent to make this decision. Christ quoted the Psalmist in his reply to Satan in the temptation in the wilderness, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” This is the great baptist understanding. There is no other legitimate and competent authority other than the individual to make a religious decision. This is what we mean when we speak of “soul competency,” as E.Y. Mullins put it:

     “Religious liberty excludes the imposition of religious creeds by ecclesiastical authority. Confessions of faith by individuals or groups of men [and woman], voluntarily framed and set forth as containing the essentials of what men [or women] believe to be the Gospel are all right. They are merely one way of witnessing to the truth. But when they are laid upon men’s [or women’s] consciences by ecclesiastical command, or by a form of human authority, they become a shadow between the soul and God, an intolerable yoke, impertinence, and a tyranny.” (“The Baptist Conception of Religious Liberty,” 1923)

     Therefore, all religious activity must be strictly voluntary on the part of the individual. There can be no coercion in these matters, and certainly no collusion with the state in them. In fact, no institution whether the church or the state, possesses any competency to make any religious decision on behalf of an individual. Virginia baptist preacher John Leland put it this way:

 

“Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either on God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse, or loss of property, from his religious opinions.”

 

     The corollary to this God-given religious liberty is the principle of the strict separation of the church from the state. In our work in Pastors for Texas Children, we refer to religious liberty as a gift from God to all people, and note that James Madison did not make it up. God did. Madison took an eternal spiritual truth that God authored and wrote it down in an extraordinary sentence that comprises the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

 

     Leland’s influence over James Madison is well-known by everyone in this room today. When Madison learned that Leland might challenge him for his seat in the House of Representatives, Madison forged a compromise with Leland that resulted in the popular baptist preacher standing down from his electoral challenge in exchange for Madison’s championing of the principle of church/state separation. And the rest, as we say, is history.

 

     It is not an overstatement to say that religious liberty is the principle upon which our nation was founded. A free church in a free state. And long before America came along the first pastor of the church told his congregation at Galatia, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit to a yoke of slavery.”

 

     Corley, my ten year old granddaughter, knows this. She learned it at church. And she learned it at school.

 

 

The Public School

 

     The public school is the building block of American democracy. It is the cornerstone of our national life. It was determined at the outset of our Republic that the American experiment might have a chance of succeeding if we educated all our children in a public trust—not just those fortunate enough by reason of their class and station to receive an education.

 

     In 1785 John Adams said, 

 

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

 

Clearly, this founding father of our Republic saw public education as central to our social contract and fundamental to the provision of the common good.

 

     Universal education is a moral mandate rooted in the faith tradition. In the creation story itself, God brought all of creation to the human to see what the human would name it. This “naming” impulse is education. It is central to the first charge God gives to the human, “to be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth, and subdue it.”   

  

     The first schools in America were founded by faith communities.  Shortly thereafter, at the dawn of our Republic, people of faith realized that an educated populace was essential for the preservation of democracy and self-governance.  Therefore, public education for all children in America was birthed out of a moral sensibility. That conviction was encoded in constitutions of the respective states as our nation expanded westward. Virtually every state constitution has a mandate for public education.  Our own Texas State Constitution in Article 7, Section 1, says this: 

“A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

     For these reasons of profound moral and religious motivation, public school educators often are faith leaders themselves. They serve as pastors, ministers, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth and children’s leaders, committee chairpersons, mission and music directors, accompanists, and many other ministry positions in the life of the church.

 

     It is axiomatic among congregational pastors that the persons we turn to for religious instruction of our children are our public school teachers. Furthermore, it is common for a local church pastor’s spouse to teach in the nearby public school.  This has been a time-honored clergy couple vocational package for decades.  Our sons and daughters are employed in the public schools as coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians.

 

     Public schools are filled with many people of faith. These teachers, principals, and school staff bow their heads in our houses of worship with us, serve and fellowship alongside us, and model their faith in schools and classrooms, following the spirit of 1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

 

     This is why an affirmation of universal and public education can be found in the denominational documents of all faiths.  It is a universal human right accorded every child be virtue of being on God’s planet.

 

     Schools and churches remain inextricably bound together in every community. 90% of our children in our churches attend public schools. The rest attend all the other models of education, whether private, online, and home schools. We appropriately affirm all these models of education.  Indeed, our congregations are comprised of leaders in all these diverse school models.

 

     We see the local public school and its classroom as a center of God’s love.  Education is a gift from Almighty God accorded to every human being regardless of race, religion, economic status, and special need.  The public school, unlike the private school, receives and accepts every single child that shows up on its steps, and meets that child’s needs as sensitively and lovingly as possible. 

 

     Our loved ones and fellow church members do not leave God at the door of the school house as they go about their daily duties.  They carry the love and grace of God with them every hour of every day.  Indeed, they show love, unconditional acceptance, and physical assistance to children who have special needs, come from emotionally deprived circumstances, and suffer the ill-effects of crushing poverty. It’s what a teacher does.  It’s a calling before God.

 

     My own daughter-in-law, who is a public school educator, did not get the memo that God has been taken out of our schools.  She takes the longsuffering love that she showers on our grandchildren into the classroom with her, and pours it out on children from the community all day long. Corley is not the only recipient of it. All the children in her classroom receive it.

 

     Our neighborhood and community public schools are the primary vehicles for perpetuating civil society, promoting human equality, strengthening our economy, and ensuring continued democratic reform in our nation and world. 

 

     The public school is the proving ground for religious liberty and the principle of church/state separation. Here our children witness firsthand that their own religious experience is not given preference over anyone else’s. Here they see early on the tremendous power of voluntary and personal faith, that faith is something expressed and brokered by them—not by some official institutional leader. To use a familiar term, they discover their own individual priesthood.

 

     Public education advances moral and civic values through early investments to give every student a fair shot and the tools needed to pursue a more prosperous, self-sufficient future. These investments reap significant long-term economic dividends and savings generated from fewer societal problems, benefiting all of us.

 

     By investing in public education, we invest in the future of 50 million American schoolchildren. This basic investment is the key to a child’s future economic mobility, the financial stability of families, and our long-term economic prosperity. We know, because it is well-documented, the direct correlation between education achievement and economic viability.

 

     As we have noted, our spouses and church members routinely teach in our public schools. Often in our towns, the public school district is the chief employer and economic generator of our communities.  As goes the financial health of our public schools, goes the financial health of our churches.  The school is the center of vitality and meaningful, life-enriching activity for our people.  One only need look at the importance of Friday Night Football for folks to see this.

 

     It is the public schools that serve all children. Not just those of economic means, or whose parents are engaged, or who are from stable homes, or who perform well academically. But, all.

 

     Over 60 percent of Texas schoolchildren are economically disadvantaged. Public schools cannot be expected to overcome the challenges created by rising poverty, and especially when they are educating more students with less money. The last thing these poor neighborhoods need is to be stripped of their remaining vitality.  

 

     Texas ranks near the bottom in per-pupil spending nationwide. Bear with a brief history of Texas education policy. In 2011, devastating funding cuts forced school districts to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, and reduce pre-kindergarten programs. In 2013, Texas legislators restored only a portion of the cuts — about 60 percent —leaving a gaping deficit in education funding. In 2015, schools also had to accommodate for student growth, totaling 300,000 more students than in 2011. In 2017, House Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s proposal to infuse $3 billion new dollars into the public education system was pulled from the floor by that good man because he didn’t have the votes to pass it. Only in this year’s session did we finally get $6.5 billion new dollars for our children’s public education—and only after Texas voters retired some key legislators who oppose public education in the 2018 elections.

 

     These are profound moral, Biblical, constitutional, and economic reasons for universal education paid for by the public. The case for quality public education is overwhelming.

 

     So, we wonder what the real agenda is in our legislative assault on public schools? We have witnessed firsthand the cruel attack on our public education system as a “monstrosity.” We are more than a little outraged to hear from some of our elected officials that our public schools are “Godless.”  We have heard with our own ears loose talk of our schools as “failed” and our teachers as “incompetent.” Then, when our own Texas legislature began churning out bills designed specifically to demoralize teachers—vouchers, unlimited charter school expansion, opportunity school districts, tuition tax credits, A-F school rating, parent trigger—our good faith pastoral nature to give benefit of the doubt began to cave to the unpleasant conclusion of something more insidious unfolding before our eyes:  the intentional dismantling of the Constitutionally mandated public trust of universal education.

 

     The privatization of the public trust of universal education is a thinly veiled disguise to turn the local public school into a profit center for the personal financial gain of a few. State legislatures all over our country are being pressured by rich interests to divert already stretched dollars from our public schools to fund private and charter schools.  We know that the private schools are not asking for this support; they do not want government interference and intrusion into their private assemblies. That is the reason they established the private school in the first place.

 

     We are deeply troubled by the government expansion and entitlement programs undergirding privatization policies.  Private school vouchers and so-called “school choice” initiatives are nothing but government giveaway programs with no accountability or oversight.  Absent are the myriad stewardship measures the public schools must submit to give account for how state dollars are being spent.  We hear about these overwrought accountability rules from our family and church members all the time.

 

     We decry the expansion of unlimited charter schools as a replacement for our traditional community and neighborhood public schools, the avalanche of burdensome assessment measures our teachers and students are subjected to, and the de-professionalization of teaching through low wages and bad conditions.

 

     We must prioritize the adequate funding of our institutions of public education for the benefit of all Texans. Up until the 86th Legislative session, the previous Texas legislatures have seen contentious fights over public education policy and the dramatic cuts to public school funding. This must stop now.

 

The Soul of America

 

     There are two competing visions for the soul of our nation: one weakens the public and one strengthens it. On one side, there is a drive to de-fund public education, de-professionalize teaching, misuse test scores to declare schools as failing, and institute paths to privatize schools in the name of school reform. These privatization schemes take the form of private school vouchers, for-profit virtual schools, and corporate chain charter schools that do not serve all students equally.

 

     The other vision is to provide adequate funding for all schools, implement high quality and full day pre-kindergarten instructional programs that start our youngest learners on their path to educational success, raise the bar with higher standards and more respect for the teaching profession, focus on a rich instructional program instead of a narrow overemphasis on testing, and engage community partners in support for neighborhood schools and the children and families they serve.

 

     Those advocating the privatization of public schools have attacked the public education system and falsely labeled neighborhood schools as failures. This arbitrary judgment has been exposed as a cynical strategy to divert public education monies for private purposes, and has brought advocates like Pastors for Children to the fight against privatization and in support of initiatives that tell the true story about the value of our public schools.

 

     The “choice” that corporate chain charters claim to offer parents and students is illusory. It is really these private operators who exercise their own freedom to choose which students they will recruit and retain and which students they will exclude or filter out. And the latter group disproportionately includes Hispanics, African-Americans, English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and students who are at risk because of disciplinary or academic difficulties.  These children are our neighbors too.

 

     The private school voucher, regardless of the euphemism by which it is falsely named, will not begin to cover the cost of a private education that even approximates the quality of the education that poor child receives in the traditional public school.  Quality private education costs far more than what the voucher covers.  Furthermore, there is no transportation allotment attached to the voucher. One surely notices that private schools are not located in poor neighborhoods.  How would the poor child get to the private school even with a voucher?

 

     As we have said, the poorest children among us attend public schools.  They are the places these children are taught, fed, affirmed, and loved.  62% of the 5.4 million schoolchildren in Texas attend public schools.  Private schools do not exist to care for poor children in this way, nor do they intend to accept the influx of poor children into their schools through vouchers. That is the very reason private schools are private in the first place.  It is as morally wrong for the State of Texas to divert already stretched public dollars for underwriting the religious mission of private church and parochial schools, as it is for the state to require intrusive accountability measures for the private schools that receive that public money. Let private schools remain private, public schools remain public.

 

     The chief objection we have to vouchers is the inherent religious liberty violations of them. The Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the State of Texas, Article 1, Section 6 and 7 states this:  “No man shall be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent. No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.”  Clearly, using tax dollars for religious private schools violates this principle. 

 

     Do Texas Christians really want their tax money to fund Muslim private schools?  By last count, we have eleven madrassas in the state of Texas.  Do Muslim folks want their money underwriting Baptist church schools? Do Texas Baptists really want their tax money to fund Roman Catholic schools that teach the infallibility of the Pope?  Do Texas Catholics really want their tax money funding Baptist schools that teach children the priesthood of all believers?

 

     Let us rededicate ourselves to these children in our public education system. Rather than again fixating on controversial, unproven policies that further impair our public schools, let us reclaim our collective will to pursue proposals that give our schools the support they need to prepare our children for the economy they will inherit, and create.

 

     Pastors for Children are mobilizing congregational leaders to do precisely this. We have three objectives in our work:  1) Get the congregation involved in assistance ministries in your local neighborhood school, always under the authority of the school principal and in deference to God’s gift of church/state separation; 2.) Get congregational leaders engaged in public education advocacy by bringing your influence to bear on state legislators who shape education policy for our children; and 3.) Engage in electoral races not to endorse candidates, but to endorse the justice provision of quality public education for all children.

 

     We are now in six states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Florida. We have held meetings and conversations with faith leaders in a dozen other states where we will soon plant our work.

 

     Let’s provide our children the education that our community provided us. Their future, and ours, depends on it. Let us rededicate ourselves to these children in our public education system. We have an absolute and total obligation to our children. Not just the few. Not just the privileged. Not just our own. All children. 

 

   The great equalizer in American life is the neighborhood public school. It is the laboratory for our democracy. It is the teller of our national history and story. It is the training ground for citizenship in this great land. It is the discovery zone where our children uncover their own God-given talent, realize their own significance, understand the power of their own individuality, and locate their own place within the larger world of their community. It is the social and communal context where the values of our faith are incarnated. It is the meeting place for the widening diversity of our American life. The public school is the shared space where we nurture civic virtue, cultivate mutual respect, practice tolerance across racial, class, gender, political, and religious lines, and preserve and protect God’s Common Good.

 

 

Jitu Brown is a son of Chicago. He is National director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, which has affiliates in 30 cities, where they work for social justice.

Jitu was the driving force behind the community effort to save Dyett High school  in Chicago, the last open admission high school in Bronzeville. Mayor Rahm Emanuel had decided to close Dyett, and Jitu organized a campaign to save Dyett. He led a 34-day hunger strike, and eventually Rahm gave up and instead of closing Dyett, he invested $16 million into renovating it as a school for the arts.

Listen to Jitu here, where he is videotaped by videographer Bob Greenberg. Greenberg has created an archive of hundreds of interviews with educators. He is a retired teacher.

In this video, Jitu Brown describes the two teachers who had a profound impact on him and helped him discover his strengths.

In this video, Jitu Brown recites Claude Mckay’s “If We Must Die.”

Jitu belongs on the Honor Roll of this blog.

Jitu Brown is a hero of the Resistance. He is also a member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

He is featured in my new book SLAYING GOLIATH.

Karen Lewis is the inspiration for today’s teacher’s strikes.

She is one of a kind.

She is a hero, a woman of courage, character, integrity, intellect, and steel.

The Chicago Teachers Union just released this video tribute to Karen.

Karen is a product of the Chicago Public Schools. She went to elite Ivy League colleges, first to Mount Holyoke, then transferred to Dartmouth College, where she was the only African American female in the class of 1974.

Karen returned to Chicago and became a chemistry teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, where she taught for 22 years.

In 2010, an upstart group of unionists called the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) ousted the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union and elected Karen Lewis as its president. The new leadership cut its own salaries and began building relationships with community organizations and parents.

The city’s political and financial elite rewrote state law in hopes of preventing the union from striking. Assisted by Jonah Edelman of the turncoat “Stand for Children,” the city’s financial elite hired the state’s top lobbyists (so that none would be available to help the union), raised millions of dollars (outspending the unions), and passed a state law saying that teachers could not strike unless they had the approval of 75% of their members. They thought this was an impossible threshold. Jonah Edelman, seated alongside James Schine Crown, one of Chicago’s wealthiest financiers, boasted of their feat at the Aspen Institute in 2011. Surrounded by their union-hating peers from other cities at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Edelman said “If It Could Happen Here, It Could Happen Anywhere,” meaning that with enough financial and political clout, unions could be crushed. (The event was transcribed by Parents Across America and blogger Fred Klonsky copied the video before the Aspen Institute took it down). Edelman subsequently apologized for his candid remarks, but Stand for Children has continued to act as a proxy for philanthrocapitalists. (The Aspen video and Edelman’s apology is here on Fred Klonsky’s blog).

Needless to say, the elites were shocked when Karen Lewis and her team called for authorization to strike and won the support of more than 90% of the union’s membership.

In 2012, the union struck for 10 days and won important concessions, including protections for teachers laid off when Rahm Emanuel closed schools, prevention of merit pay (which she knew has failed everywhere), and changes in the teacher evaluation system. The union had carefully built relationships with parents and communities, and the strike received broad public support.

In 2014, Karen Lewis was urged to challenge Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral election. She set up an exploratory committee, and early polls showed she was likely to win. But in the fall of 2014, Karen was afflicted with a cancerous brain tumor. She was 61 years old. She stepped down as president of the CTU. She is cared for by her devoted husband, John Lewis, who was a physical education teacher in the Chicago Public Schools.

Karen Lewis exemplified courage, fearlessness, Resistance, leadership, and concern for teachers and children.

Every teacher who took the bold step of striking to improve the conditions of teaching and learning in their school  stands on the shoulders of Karen Lewis. Every teacher and parent who wears Red for Ed is in the debt of this great woman.

She is our hero. She should be the hero of everyone who cares about the rights of children and the eventual triumph of the common good.

Watch here to see Karen Lewis before her illness, speaking at the first annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Austin Texas on March 1, 2024. Her speech was preceded by that of John Kuhn, superintendent of a school district in Texas. Karen starts speaking about the 14-minute mark. Both are worth watching.

I interviewed Karen Lewis at the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Chicago in 2015. You can see it here. 

And this is my account of how I met Karen for the first time and why I love her.

She inspires me every day. I miss her very much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neema Avashia learned that her middle school in Boston was going to close. She decided that she would stand and fight. She did. She is a true patriot. She made a difference. She defeated the powerful. She is a hero of the Resistance. She joins the honor roll of this blog.

She writes:

My gloves came off the day representatives of my school district told us they would be closing our school. Our students would be sent to a turnaround high school that had never taught middle school students. Recently arrived immigrant students in language-specific programs, which the high school did not offer, would be dispersed across the city. As for our staff, the representative from Human Capital glibly told us, “We have no plan for you.”

What does it mean when the school system that you’ve poured your heart into doesn’t have the decency to consider a thoughtful transition plan before making the decision to close your school?

It means they never saw you as human in the first place.

It means that your job, then, is to make it impossible for them to look away from your humanity.

I went home from work that afternoon and opened a Twitter account. Opponents of other district proposals had successfully used Twitter to shame city leadership into changing course.

The John W. McCormack Middle School on Columbia Point. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“I am a @McCormackMiddle teacher,” my first tweet read. “Today the district announced they will be closing my school, and I am left full of questions.”

Once I began, there was no stopping. I knew that if the McCormack closed, I would not be a teacher anymore. That the work it took to build these relationships, and this community, was not something I could take up a second time under the scepter of further closures.

On Twitter, I relentlessly poked holes in the plan: BuildBPS was founded on the premise of renovating pre-WWII buildings, yet our building was constructed in 1968. Multiple schools have failing heat systems and leaking roofs, but our building had received a new boiler, windows and roof within the last ten years. BuildBPS purported to prioritize the most vulnerable students, yet disrupted the education of our English Language Learners.

My recklessness knew no bounds. I went before the Boston School Committee and announced, “I’m here to give you a history lesson,” then reminded them that our students had merged with a turnaround previously — the elementary school next door — and that doing so had placed the elementary school under even higher scrutiny from the state.

Read her story. Hers is the kind of dedication that the corporate reformers and Disrupters can’t buy. She is a champion of children, not a billionaire’s lackey. She carries within her the spark of revolution that inspired patriots in the 18th century.  She is a patriot for our times, uncowed by  money and power.

 

Capital & Main interviewed Jackie Goldberg about her views, her vision, her hopes for the future. My heart sang and my brain hummed as I read her inspiring words.  

Reading Jackie’s words was like eating comfort food. I kept saying to myself, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Read the interview and you will see what I mean.

Jackie knows we are in the middle of a war to save public education. She knows that there is big money determined to kill it. She knows that the hope for the future of our democracy depends in having a well-funded public school system that provides genuine opportunity to all children.

And she is prepared to go to the mat, in Los Angeles and in Sacramento, to get the funding that public schools need and to get the financial accountability that charter schools need.

I am reminded of the first time I met Jackie. It was December 6, 2018. I had heard about her for years as an iconic figure but our paths had never crossed.

Over the past several years, the billionaires were buying seats on the LAUSD and things were looking bleak. I kept hearing about this dynamo Jackie Goldberg, the only one who could turn things around. She was the Cy Young pitcher in the bullpen, the one held in reserve until the ninth inning.

Last December, I went to Los Angeles to receive an award from a progressive group called LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy), which fights for fair wages for low-income workers, environmental protection, and a stronger public sector.

Jackie was there. We agreed to talk after the dinner. We sat in a crowded bar and talked for over an hour. I felt like I was talking to my mirror image yet our life experiences were very different. It was a joyous conversation.

When I returned to LA in February, I spoke at a fundraiser for her. Once again I was impressed by her knowledge, her experience, her passion for education and for children and for justice.

You could count me as her biggest fan but given the 72% win she just racked up, I’m guessing that there are many others in Los Angeles who have known her much longer and who love Jackie as much as I do.

It should go without saying that she is a hero of public education.

Cy Young just came in from the bullpen. Things are definitely looking up.

Betsy DeVos held a “roundtable” with Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin at a public community college in Lexington, Kentucky.

When student journalists at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School heard that they were meeting, they went to the event, presented their press credentials, and were barred from covering it.

The only student invited to speak at the roundtable attends a religious school. The other participants represented Kentucky organizations that support privatization of public funds. That is, supporters of Betsy DeVos’s anti-public school agenda.

The students were on deadline, and they were on a mission.

They piled into a car last Wednesday and pulled away from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, their public school in Lexington, Ky. With permission, they drove across town to a community college where their Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was hosting a roundtable discussion on education featuring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The high schoolers — writers and editors for their school paper, the PLD Lamplighter — believed they were following the advice offered by DeVos last fall when she counseled, “It is easy to be nasty hiding behind screens and Twitter handles. It’s not so easy face to face.”

So the student journalists turned away from their screens and social media apps. They went in pursuit, they would later say, of “that face-to-face opportunity.”

But DeVos had no intention of admitting anyone who did not agree with her “freedom” agenda. In her view, “freedom” means her freedom only to hear what she already believes and freedom from anyone who disagrees with her. She was there to promote her agenda of defunding public schools, the schools that 90% of children in Kentucky attend. Why would she want students to hear her explain why she wants to force budget cuts on their schools?

The students discovered that the open roundtable was only open to those who were invited, and they were not invited.

So they wrote this editorial.

“No Seat at the Roundtable.”

The students were trapped in a Catch 22. They couldn’t attend the event because they were not invited. They presented their press credentials but they were still denied entry to what was billed as a public discussion.

We presented our school identification badges and showed him our press credentials. He nodded as if that would be enough, but then asked us if we had an invitation. We looked at each other, eyes wide with surprise. Invitation? For a roundtable discussion on education?

“Yes, this event is invitation only,” he said and then waved us away.

Carson Sweeney
Unable to even leave our car, we settled for a picture of the campus taken through the window.

At that point, we pulled over and contacted our adviser, Mrs. Wendy Turner. She instructed us to try again and to explain that we were there as press to cover the event for our school newspaper. We at least needed to understand why we were not allowed in, and why it was never publicized as “invitation only.”

We watched as the same man waved other drivers through without stopping them, but he stopped us again. Instead of listening to our questions, he just repeated “Sorry. It’s invitation only.”

Disappointed, we called Mrs. Turner again and explained the situation. We were missing school for this event which had been reported as a “public” event on a public college campus. Unable to ask questions, we settled for a picture from our car.

It was then that our story turned from news coverage to editorial.

After leaving campus, we started looking through social media, seeking information from other journalists’ accounts, and trying to find a live stream.

We scrambled to get ourselves together because we were caught off guard, and we were in a hurry to produce anything we could to cover the event and to meet our deadline. We called our newsroom to get assistance from our other editors. Since we were out on location, we had little to work with.

After more research, we found mentioned on the government website that the meeting needed an RSVP, but there was no mention of an invitation. How do you RSVP when there is no invitation?

On the web site, it also stated that the roundtable was an “open press event.” Doesn’t open press imply open to ALL press including students?

We are student journalists who wanted to cover an event in our community featuring the Secretary of Education, but ironically, we couldn’t get in without an invitation.

The students checked and discovered that: Of the 173 school districts in Kentucky that deal directly with students, none were represented at the table. Zero. This is interesting because the supposed intention of the event was to include stakeholders–educators, students, and parents.

They didn’t understand that DeVos does not care about the educators, students or parents at public schools. She cares only about her radical agenda of charters and vouchers.

When the meeting was over, Governor Bevin said, with no hint of irony, that the discussion was all about “the children.”

But the children were not invited nor were they allowed to watch the event or even to cover it as journalists.

What hypocrites those leaders are!

How heroic the students are!

I am putting them on the blog’s honor roll, which is reserved for heroes of public education.

 

 

The Texas House of Representatives endorsed sweeping legislation to fund public schools. Representative Dan Huberty (R-Houston), chairman of the House Public Education Committee, steered the legislation to a nearly unanimous vote. 

“House Bill 3 would increase base funding for each student by $890, fund full-day pre-K for low-income 4-year-olds in most school districts, compress tax rates for all districts and reduce the amount of money wealthier districts pay the state in recapture payments to shore up poorer districts. Because Democrats spearheaded a change in the bill, it would also provide across-the-board raises for all full-time school employees who are not administrators.”

“We are finally reforming public education in Texas, and not by court order, so that’s a pretty important thing,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Dan Huberty, a Republican who chairs the House Public Education Committee. The vast majority of House lawmakers signed on to the bill as co-authors. Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, was the lone no vote.

“The bill will now make its way to the Senate. The upper chamber last week increased the amount it had planned to set aside for public education and property tax reform to match the House’s original proposal.”

Rep. Dan Huberty is a hero of public education. I met him a few years ago at an evening sponsored by Friends of Public Education in Texas. He joins the honor roll of this blog for shepherding a complex bill through the House that will improve schooling for five million children.

 

 

We lost our dear friend, Phyllis Bush, today after a valiant struggle with cancer. Her beloved life partner and wife, Donna Roof, was by Phyllis’s side at every moment. 

Phyllis was truly a hero of public education, founder of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education and founding board member of the Network for Public Education.

It is with profound sadness that the Network for Public Education announces the passing of one of our founding board members Phyllis Bush after a courageous battle with cancer.

NPE President, Diane Ravitch, remembers how impressed she was when she first met Phyllis. “I will never forget meeting Phyllis. I spoke at a university event in Indiana, and no sooner did I step off the stage, then I was surrounded by Phyllis and her team. She wanted me to know everything about what was happening in Indiana. I realized I was in the presence of a force of nature. When Anthony Cody and I began creating a national board for the new Network for Public Education, I immediately thought of Phyllis. She was loved and respected by everyone with whom she came into contact. We will miss her. I will miss her.”

Phyllis was a warrior for public education. A retired public school teacher, Phyllis taught English Language Arts to students in Illinois and Indiana for 32 years. Upon retirement, she devoted her energies to fighting high-stakes testing and school privatization. She founded the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education and devoted her energies to lobbying for sound public education policies in her state and the nation.

“Whenever I spoke with Phyllis, she was preparing for, or coming back from traveling to Indianapolis where she would speak with legislators about the importance of supporting public schools. It did not matter whether they agreed with her or not—she was walking
into their office and making her case. When she was not lobbying herself, she was organizing others to do the work. Grassroots groups in Indiana and Ohio looked to Phyllis for leadership. And she led them all with incredible smarts, dedication and a fabulous sense of humor.” said NPE Executive Director, Carol Burris.

This year Phyllis was delighted to help host the Fifth Annual Network for Public Education Conference in her home state of Indiana. During that conference, Phyllis presented the first annual Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Organizing. That award was presented to SOS Arizona, which stopped ESA voucher expansion in its tracks.

Teresa Shimogawa, a teacher from Anaheim, California, wrote about meeting Phyllis at the conference. “Life is short and painful and messy, but people like Phyllis use their fleeting time to champion noble causes. Saving public schools is saving democracy. Phyllis is a true patriot. Her legacy is something that will transcend her physical life.”

Phyllis is survived by her soulmate, retired teacher Donna Roof, who she married in early December of 2018. She also is survived by her son David, her two grandsons, her older brother and sister and her nieces and nephews.

We will miss Phyllis every day. Her humor, hard work and devotion to the public school children of our nation were extraordinary. She was a joy and inspiration to everyone at the Network for Public Education.

Please give to the Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Organizing fundso that we can continue to honor her memory for years to come. You can make a tax-deductible donation to that fund here.

 

Scott Schmerelson is a hero of public education. I add him to the blog’s honor roll. He has singlehandedly forced transparency on a superintendent and school board that is trying to hide basic facts about the district. First, he released the fact that 82% of all charter schools in Los Angeles have vacancies while the LAUSD board (bought by Eli Broad and friends) echoed the false claim about long waiting lists. No long waiting lists. Many vacancies. No need for new charters.

Then he forced the Superintendent Austin Beutner to release a list of secret payments to vendors who are helping him develop his plan to disrupt and disorganize the district.

Mr. Beutner, who is an equity investor from the private sector, apparently didn’t realize that public business is conducted in public, not behind closed doors or in secret.

One of the reasons that the cost of education rises while teachers’ pay is stagnant is because of the diversion of public funds to consultants who go from district to district, selling services that are not needed or that have failed repeatedly. Or just plain old cronyism.

Howard Blume wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

Outside consultants working on a plan to restructure the Los Angeles Unified School District were asked to develop a performance-based rating system for schools and to shift hiring and purchasing of services from the central district office to local campus networks, according to confidential contracts provided to The Times.

The contracts were released last week in response to repeated requests since October from Board of Education member Scott Schmerelson. The consultants’ work was not disclosed, but Schmerelson plans to continue to press to make it public.

District officials had declined requests from the Times and others to make the contracts public as Supt. Austin Beutner developed his reform plan, which he said is meant to save money and improve student success by bringing decision-making and resources closer to the campus level.

The contracts also became an issue in the weeks leading up to the January teachers’ strike, when union leaders and their members expressed concern about where Beutner — a businessman with no background in education management — would take the nation’s second-largest school system.The contracts total $3 million so far, with the largest amounts going to Ernst & Young ($1.5 million), which specializes in business services and consulting, and the Kitamba Group ($765,000), whose focus is education. The agreements are being administered by the nonprofit California Community Foundation and paid for by private donors, including the Ballmer Group, the California Community Foundation, the California Endowment, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Weingart Foundation.

According to its contract, Ernst & Young’s mission was to analyze how the district can better use resources and cut costs in purchasing, food services, technology and transportation, as well as deal with work-related injuries and adjust its general financial practices. The work was to be completed, with a full report, before the end of November. It is not clear if that timetable was met.

Kitamba was to have developed a working definition of a “great school” and to have designed a “network structure” by the end of 2018. The Times reported in November that Beutner was considering assigning all schools to one of about 32 different networks.

Kitamba’s contract also said the company would help the district develop a way for officials to discuss giving letter grades to schools, ranking them on a 100-point scale or assigning them a color to denote their status. Kitamba was also to have developed measures that could be taken when a school fell short of standards. The triggers for taking action were to be developed in draft form by last September.

By December of 2018, each school was to have a performance rating along with a summary explanation. The goal by mid-February, according to Kitamba’s contract, was to “engage” on the plan with central office and school staff as well as with students and families. A media campaign also was due to roll out, with the new school networks slated to launch next September.

The Kitamba contract also proposed that each school network be allowed to choose or refuse “services” from the central office. The proposal does not specify which services, or say where the services would come from if the networks reject the central district’s offerings.

But the New York City school system tried a similar plan, starting in 2007, allowing local nonprofits to compete against the district to provide services. After about eight years, New York abandoned the plan, which cut costs but did not improve student achievement.

Kitamba, in the contract documents, cited its previous work in Midland, Texas as an example of how it would carry out its duties. In Midland and some other Texas school districts, schools or networks of schools are supposed to have autonomy, but individual schools are rated every year and there can be serious consequences for those with low student achievement.

The Texas plan calls for creating new schools, replicating successful ones and “restarting” struggling ones.

A $595,000 restructuring contract was also awarded to former Newark schools Supt. Cami Anderson to make services to students with disabilities cheaper and more effective.

KUDOS to Howard Blume for excellent reporting which digs below the surface of the LAUSD claims.